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Suddenly feeling his own exhaustion, Anthony looked past him. On the edge of the field, the cart was visible only as a dim outline, the lanterns hanging from its bench seat two feeble spots of light. "Is the last one settled?"

Dilby nodded and tucked the end of his rag into his leather apron. "Phillips is still with him. He's stabilized; he might make it to the hospital. I don't know if the major will. He woke up that once, but…" He shrugged. "I'm surprised he lasted this long, what with his guts on the outside."

Anthony smiled faintly as they began their trek back to the cart. In only two months of war, he'd seen men live through worse and die from less. "He hasn't cocked up his toes vet, Dilby—perhaps he'll survive to let Surgeon Guthrie perform his magic."

"Skill and instinct, not magic," Dilby retorted quickly, and Anthony grinned. The young mate's adoration of the Principal Medical Officer had been clear since they'd met. Glancing sidelong at Anthony from narrowed, baggy eyes, he added, "But a personal physician wouldn't know that."

Anthony didn't take offense at the deliberate insult; he knew his service in the war was not a heroic effort but simply a way of repaying a debt. He'd rather have done anything but practice medicine and amateur surgery on the battlefield, and would rather have been anywhere but the Peninsula. Dilby deserved some reply, however, so he forced humor into his tone and said, "Convince Cole of my uselessness on a day when his gout is particularly painful, and I'll apprentice myself in the surgery tomorrow."

Chuckling, Dilby veered away from Anthony to avoid the corpse of one of Napoleon's soldiers. His tone became wistful. "I suppose when the war is over, you won't be his personal physician any longer. You'll set up a practice in London, join society, and treat ladies' nerves."

With only the slightest break in his stride, Anthony stooped and felt for a pulse. Half of the soldier's face had been torn away, probably victim to English shrapnel. "Hardly appropriate work for a gentleman," he said softly. They were familiar words; Anthony's mother and sisters never failed to remind him of it in the letters he received.

When Anthony caught up to him a moment later, Dilby continued, "At least when you marry, you will be able to present your wife at court. My Sarah would have liked that." The folds on his face creased into the tender smile that appeared whenever he mentioned his wife or their young daughter.

Anthony tried to return the smile and to keep the doubts that had plagued him for two months from squeezing at him, but the words made his chest tighten nonetheless. When you marry. His promise to Emily hadn't been an understanding, and yet he could not help but hope that his vow had touched her, that she would consider his unspoken offer of marriage.

Would she wait for him? Likely not.

But as Colin's brief letters never contained information about her entering into an engagement, he saw no reason to give up that hope. There was little other pleasure to be had on the Peninsula.

With his gaze focused on the ground and his thoughts far from a bloodstained battlefield in Spain, it took Anthony a moment to realize that Dilby had stopped abruptly and was staring ahead, his eyes wide.

Anthony's question died on his lips as the light from the cart's two lanterns winked out, followed by the sound of crumpling metal. Surprise kept him rooted briefly to the spot—the medical cart was clearly marked to let medical personnel work unmolested, even in the heat of battle—until Phillips's sharp, terrified cry spurred him forward.

He broke into a run, the racing of his heart echoed by his pounding feet. Behind him, Dilby shouted, "We are medics! Docker!"

The lantern swung wildly in his hand. Its erratic illumination prevented him from clearly seeing the cart, but the half moon limned the shape of a man—too big to be Phillips—scrambling atop the cart and bending over until he was hidden by its wooden sides.

Suddenly cautious, Anthony slowed his pace to a jog, forcing himself to take deep breaths, and to think instead of blindly react. He hadn't heard a firearm, but the man could be armed—and Anthony was not. He had to assume that the only rifle the medical team carried with them, which had been in the cart with Phillips, was under their assailant's control. He was uncertain if the man had been wearing a uniform; perhaps a soldier needed help but was crazed from the battle and acting irrationally?

Fifteen feet from the cart, he stopped and steadied the lamp, staring at the scene and trying to make sense of it: the brown, gory lump at the front of the cart, the smaller one beside it. His stomach clenched as he realized the mule's head had been torn from its body, the ragged cavity at the top of its shoulders still steaming.

Fear shivered over his skin, slick and cold.

Dilby came up beside him, panting from exertion. Metal glinted in his hand. "I found this… oh, God Almighty save us!"

Anthony silently repeated the prayer. Even amidst the terrible carnage of the battlefield, this violence struck him as unnatural, a malevolent perversion. A man, even a madman, couldn't have done that to the mule.

Every instinct told him to flee; he gripped the handle of the lantern tightly, as if its small weight could anchor him, and called out, "Phillips?"

A choking, gurgling noise answered. Dilby whimpered, backing up a step.

Anthony glanced at the younger man and met the horrified gaze that mirrored his own. He said hoarsely, "I should try to help him."

Dilby shook his head violently and took another step back. "I don't think—" He broke off with a shudder, the final words hanging unspoken but palpable between them.

I don't think he's still alive.

Anthony looked back at the cart. "I have to try."

As if seeing Anthony's determination bolstered his courage, Dilby squared his shoulders and nodded. His face was pale, the loose skin stretched tight with tension. His voice trembled, but he managed to say, "We have to try."

Anthony nodded gratefully; he didn't consider himself a coward, but he certainly did not want to face alone whatever waited for them—and if Phillips had been seriously hurt, Anthony would need Dilby's medical assistance.

He glanced at the sword bayonet the other man had found, and now held in a white-knuckled grip. Though the sturdy blade had a smooth brass handle, it was too short and awkward for effective hand-to-hand combat, but at least it offered them some protection. "Can you use that if you need to?"

"For Sarah and little Nellie's sake, I will," Dilby said.

Anthony's expression hardened, anger burning through the fear that had overtaken him. Dilby and he weren't soldiers; whoever hid in the cart had attacked unarmed and injured men.

He swept the lantern in a circle, looking for a weapon of his own. He found nothing, and delaying any longer wouldn't help Phillips—if Phillips could be helped at all.

In silent agreement, they rounded the cart, careful to keep a significant distance from it. They couldn't hide their presence; Anthony's lamp made them a target, as did Dilby's ragged breathing.

War hadn't prepared him for what Anthony saw; it wasn't the death or the mutilation that made the vomit rise in his throat, but the gleeful expression of the creature who waited for them. Naked, completely hairless, it lay on top of the bodies of the soldiers, their blood splattered across its pale skin. Its penis was engorged, as if murder had been an erotic pleasure. Its elbow was propped against Phillips's leg, and it rested its chin in its hand. It watched them, grinning, blood smeared around its mouth. Casually, almost like Caesar plucking grapes from a platter, it reached down and tore Phillips's thumb from his hand and began sucking the blood from it.